In 2011 I led a small group to link our celebration of the relief of the Siege of Gloucester (Gloucester Day: reinvented by Alan Myatt in 2008 on the first Saturday of September) to the national Heritage Open Days programme (second weekend of Sep), fill the gap with a week of talks at Blackfriars and brand the whole thing the Gloucester History Festival. Everything was organised by unpaid part time volunteers and, thanks to some generous local businesses, it washed its face. So a new Festival was born – not competitive with Cheltenham’s festivals and building on one of our great strengths: bags of history.
Eight years on we’re bigger and run the Festival with better governance through the Gloucester History Trust (a CIO or Charitable Incorporated Organisation), with a very able mix of trustees. Our Manager Mhairi Smith, Curator Sarah Smyth and Fund Raiser Sarah Rawlings make sure everything is well run and sustainable. And the festival includes a huge range of mostly free talks and events under the City Voices badge, giving many more people a voice, easy access and a wider range of fun, food for thought and activities.
Our aim is for the Gloucester History Festival to be a permanent feature in the constellation of British Festival Stars; stimulating and entertaining residents and visitors of all ages for generations to come. We’ll use more venues, as more of Gloucester’s built heritage is regenerated – mostly with Heritage Lottery Fund help – and draw on the stories and interests of different migrant groups and very modern issues as well as more traditional history. I hope too that we will gradually build a fund to increase awareness of Gloucester and Gloucestershire’s role in local, national and international history at primary schools. Knowing your city and county are special, and how, helps build local pride.
This isn’t just about spreading awareness of the past - what happened then has shaped our present: and gives pointers for what we might achieve in the future too.
Meanwhile have we got events, talks and discussions that would inspire YOU to come this year?
Our themes for the Blackfriars Talks and City Voices in this centenary year of women getting the vote for the first time are Women and Leadership – whether suffragettes, influencers, parliamentarians or Queens. We haven’t got a Queen speaking but we do have our President Janina Ramirez, politician Harriet Harman and suffragette descendant Helen Pankhurst. Others talking at Blackfriars include Michael Wood, Kate Adie, David Owen and David Olusoga – and a guest appearance by an Engima machine.
The City voices include an NHS70 tribute, a family programme including life as a Roman soldier and films made by young people about those who’ve shaped their lives. And thanks to generous funding from the Great Place scheme supported by the Arts Council, the HLF and Historic England we have 12 more events this year in over 24 venues, alongside a huge range of exciting events on Heritage Open Weekend.
So I hope even more residents and visitors come and enjoy Heritage and History in our city than the 16,000 who came last year, and that you find something you like. Some talks have already sold out, but my tip is not just to look at the big names. Our curator and teams have chosen great speakers, famous or not. Just ring 01452 396572 or book online at www.gloucesterhistoryfestival.co.uk
I’m grateful to our local sponsors, particularly Rock Solid Knowledge and Ecclesiastical, and to all involved. We have more volunteers and involvement from the University of Gloucestershire, and if anyone who wishes to volunteer do mail our Festival manager Mhairi via email@example.com.
Meanwhile do come, and I look forward to see you there, possibly at my talk on aspects of the civil War, 375 years ago – and still relevant today!
Do send any thoughts you have on how we can improve the Gloucester History Festival to me on firstname.lastname@example.org